Prep tennis: West Rowan's little man on big stage
By Ronnie Gallagher
MOUNT ULLA — Joel Brittain was playing tennis in Charlotte last Saturday, but his Marv Albert-like “Yes!” could have been heard in Mount Ulla.
“I’m sure my family — and everyone else — could hear it,” Brittain grinned.
Brittain, a senior at West Rowan, had just defeated Giorgi Beridez of Parkwood 7-5, 6-4. It was his second regional win of the day, meaning he had qualified for the state tennis tournament.
Brittain who stands about 5-foot-5 and weighs all of 120 pounds, was joining the big boys in Burlington. He begins play today.
“ I know I can hang with anyone if I have a great day,” Brittain said Thursday. “I’ll have to play my ‘A’ game.”
His ‘A’ game consists of running his opponents all over the court, according to West Rowan coach Jonathan Brown.
“Consistency is what got Joel as far as he has,” said Brown, who began coaching the Falcons during Brittain’s freshman year.
Back then, not much was expected from West Rowan tennis. Brown played mostly freshmen and sophomores.
“I knew they’d be good,” Brown said. “Other coaches said the same thing.”
Brown realized Brittain loved the sport but size was an factor. He pointed to a team photo on his office wall where Brittain looked like he was in the fifth grade. Four seasons, and 45 victories later, West is considered a force in the NPC. In this year’s photo, Brittain still had a baby face, but he has been a big part of the resurgence as the team’s No. 1 player.
“He’s little, but believe it or not, he has grown a lot and has gotten taller,” Brown said. “One of his main issues was not having the power. He has lifted weights and he hits it harder.”
Also helping are his three-days-a-week trips to River Run in Davidson to work out.
“I worked harder than I ever have,” Brittain said. “What I worked on was hitting it with more pace.”
His first three years, his goal was just to make the regionals. But as a senior, his one goal was to get to Burlington. Last week, he opened play with an easy 6-2, 6-2 win over Forrest Boone of Charlotte Catholic. He had a chance to study Beridez in his first-round match.
“I knew I had to move him around and stay aggressive,” Brittain said.
Brittain was too close to falter. He got pumped up, then went out and realized his goal with a hard-fought win.
The busride home was nothing but excited pats on the back that carried over to this week.
“It’s good to get recognition around school where tennis isn’t used to getting much,” Brittain said.
Brittain also smiles about getting to play the same weekend as the Salisbury Hornets, who are taking six to the state tournament.
“I lived closer to the city up and I had my friends and they had theirs,” Brittain said. “We were playing at a young age.”
Brown is as happy as anyone.
“I don’t think West has had anyone in the states in at least 20 years,” he said.
Now, West’s little man is on the big stage. You’ll know it, too, if Brittain wins.
Just listen for a loud, “Yes!”
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